Without doubt the game of the Super Rugby round comes from Christchurch on Saturday as the high-flying Crusaders take on the Hurricanes.
What a season it has been thus far for Scott Robertson’s outfit as their perfect 10 out of 10 record has certainly turned plenty of heads. It’s been clear that Robertson has implemented a lot of the great things he did with Canterbury and the Crusaders are in turn flourishing.
What makes this year all the more impressive is that the Crusaders have done this without the departed Nemani Nadolo, who was their go-to man in recent terms. Throw in Israel Dagg, Kieran Read and Richie Mo’unga missing a large chunk of the season and it’s a remarkable start.
They’ve scored a whopping 61 tries in their 10 games and 405 points and with the Hurricanes the only team with more tries (63) and points (410), it bodes well for a thrilling game at AMI Stadium. Incredibly the champions have hit those numbers despite playing one game fewer.
What may give Chris Boyd’s Hurricanes hope of ending the Crusaders’ winning streak and cutting the nine-point gap in the standings is that they have won six of their last eight games against them, though only one of those victories came by a margin of greater than seven points.
Repeating their victory in Christchurch from Round 17 of last year will take some doing though as the Crusaders have won 11 of their last 12 games at home by an average margin of 27 points per game. It’s fair to say though that both these franchises enter in devastating form.
That is wonderful news for the neutral which is enhanced by the fact that New Zealand derbies have seen an average aggregate points total of 49.6 points per game this season, the highest since 2012 (50.3 points). Expect tries, points and entertainment aplenty in Christchurch.
The last time the teams met: In the final regular-season round of 2016, it was the ‘Canes who prevailed, winning 35-10 with a bonus-point in Christchurch. Tries from Jason Woodward, TJ Perenara, Willis Halaholo, Callum Gibbins and Beauden Barrett saw the champions in waiting claim the maximum, with Ryan Crotty the Crusaders’ only scorer as they missed the chance to finish top of the league. They had to settle for fifth.
Team news: Crusaders head coach Scott Robertson has made just four changes to the 23-man matchday squad that beat the Bulls last weekend. Joe Moody has rotated into the number one jersey this week, with Wyatt Crockett taking a spot on the bench. Also in the pack, hooker Ben Funnell returns to the 23 via the bench to provide cover for Codie Taylor. In the backs Ryan Crotty will start at inside centre this week, while Manasa Mataele comes into the reserves as backs cover. Matt Todd will captain the side again this week, and will also have his 100th Super Rugby fixture (achieved against the Cheetahs in South Africa) recognised in front of the home crowd, with a post-match presentation.
Canterbury flanker Reed Prinsep has been called up to the Hurricanes starting XV for Saturday’s meeting. Prinsep, who made his Super Rugby debut for the Crusaders last year, will start at blindside against his former team with Brad Shields moving to number eight for the first time this campaign. There is one other change to the side that started against the Stormers in Wellington last Friday with loosehead prop Chris Eves switching roles with Ben May, who takes a place among the reserves. Loni Uhila returns from injury on the replacements bench.
Form: It is all rosy for the Crusaders after 10 wins. Their last four games have seen them score a handsome 217 points while their average of over six tries per game in 2017 is something special. They’re enjoying a run of six maximums but all were against non New Zealand sides.
Meanwhile, the ‘Canes have won their last six with their most recent two victories seeing them score 15 tries. They average seven per game.
2016: Hurricanes won 35-10 in Christchurch
2015: Crusaders won 35-18 in Christchurch
2015: Hurricanes won 29-23 in Wellington
2014: Hurricanes won 16-9 in Wellington
2014: Hurricanes won 29-26 in Christchurch
2013: Crusaders won 25-17 in Christchurch
2013: Hurricanes won 29-28 in Wellington
2012: Hurricanes won 23-22 in Christchurch
Crusaders: 15 David Havili, 14 Seta Tamanivalu, 13 Jack Goodhue, 12 Ryan Crotty, 11 George Bridge, 10 Richie Mo’unga, 9 Mitchell Drummond, 8 Jordan Taufua, 7 Matt Todd (c), 6 Pete Samu, 5 Scott Barrett, 4 Luke Romano, 3 Owen Franks, 2 Codie Taylor, 1 Joe Moody
Replacements: 16 Ben Funnell, 17 Wyatt Crockett, 18 Michael Alaalatoa, 19 Quinten Strange, 20 Heiden Bedwell-Curtis, 21 Bryn Hall, 22 Mitchell Hunt, 23 Manasa Mataele
Hurricanes: 15 Jordie Barrett, 14 Cory Jane, 13 Vince Aso, 12 Ngani Laumape, 11 Julian Savea, 10 Beauden Barrett, 9 TJ Perenara (c), 8 Brad Shields, 7 Ardie Savea, 6 Reed Prinsep, 5 Vaea Fifita, 4 Mark Abbott, 3 Jeffery To’omaga-Allen, 2 Ricky Riccitelli, 1 Chris Eves
Replacements: 16 Leni Apisai, 17 Ben May, 18 Loni Uhila, 19 Sam Lousi, 20 Toa Halafihi, 21 Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi, 22 Otere Black, 23 Wes Goosen
Date: Saturday, May 13
Venue: AMI Stadium, Christhurch
Kick-off: 19:35 local (07:35 GMT)
Referee: Jaco Peyper
Assistant Referees: Mike Fraser, Cam Stone
TMO: Glenn Newman